The Importance of 'Why' in Our Mission

August 5, 2019 Claire Bunting

When I first started working in Admissions, I wondered why we were referred to as the Admissions Office yet my job title is Director of Enrollment. As I journeyed through my first admissions cycle, I realized that while externally we are viewed as an admissions function, internally we are tasked with managing recruitment, enrollment and retention. A few years on, and still eager to learn more about strategic enrollment management, I joined the USC CERRP Leadership in Enrollment Management Certificate program. I enjoyed learning about the evolution of enrollment management and how this approach was adopted from higher education by the K-12 market.

Over the span of this 9-month course, it was useful to take a step back from the daily demands of the job and think more deeply on the many aspects of the role. One of the units that particularly caught my attention focused on translating the mission of one’s school. As we reviewed some mission statements together, Courtney McAnuff, VP of Enrollment Management at Rutgers University pointed out, that few mission statements in education are concise. Since the mission drives our enrollment decisions, it is important that their language is clear and that each individual within the whole school community understands their role in the delivery of the mission. It also helps schools avoid ‘missions creep’ when recruiting new students. Looking at some of our institutions’ statements it quickly became clear that many of us use similar language, using words and phrases such as “community”, “challenge”, “life-long learner”. We all sounded the same, though clearly, we are not. And as McAnuff pointed out, we took too long to make our points. Putting ourselves in the shoes of our prospective families, it is evident how difficult it can be to discern one institution from another.

Communicating a clear set of messages and narrative is therefore vital in helping families determine whether their values and objectives are in alignment with yours. The importance of mission and messaging was highlighted in a TED Talk by Simon Sinek that asks us to consider how narrative styles can inspire action. During the presentation, Sinek repeatedly points out that people will be more loyal or buy from you if they truly understand why your do what you do. Citing examples from Apple and the Wright Brothers, he discusses a communication style, referred to as ‘The Golden Circle’ of communication, that connects with the heart of why your organization exists and how this helps people with similar values bond with you. Reflecting on this, many of us commented how easy it is to talk about the “what” — elements such as smaller classes, quality teaching, a close community. If enrollment professionals step back and refocus on the why, the questions of what and how will naturally be asked — because once families understand the why, they will eagerly want to learn more.

About the Author

Claire Bunting

Director of Middle and Upper School Enrollment, The Baldwin School (PA)

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